Beyond stereotypes: women engaging innovatively in the context of climate change

Chronique de la COP21,

By Susan Onyongo

The Foundation for Women’s Rights Promotion and Development (WRP) organized a session under the title: Defying Stereotypes: Women’s Innovative Engagement around Climate Change using ICT. It was chaired by Annie Chang of WRP, Taiwan. The event took place on Tuesday, 8 December 2015 at Le Bourget

Despite the fact that women are historically known for their resilience in difficult situations, they are often presented as helpless victims of circumstances they find themselves in. The presentations under this session were inspired by this situation, so as to present the other side of the untold stories of women. The aim of the session was therefore to give a glimpse of women’s capabilities by presenting initiatives where they take charge of their circumstances.

The focus is especially on two groups: indigenous women and community mothers because given their roles at household level, these category of community members have a good sense of what is best for communities in terms of needs.

Remarks by Minister Wei, Environmental Protection Administration, Taiwan

The Taiwan Minister of Environmental Protection Administration, Minister Wei opened the session with the following remarks:

At the moment, Taiwan’s Ministry of Environmental Protection Administration has a focus on 2 issues as far as their activities are concerned: i) community participation and ii) women involvement.

He added that currently air pollution is a major problem in Taiwan and is often at red alert levels. The main concern is that it results in heart and lung diseases. The current initiatives in the country include: Women forming groups that use mobile devices with blue tooth to measure and monitor air quality. This information is then sent to a circular form which is them sent to an account where computing is done. This useful information can be sent to many people at the same time. As everyone is able to look at the information, this encourages transparency. Scientific knowledge is thus created and relevant action can be taken. In this initiative, the public’s involvement, especially that of women, is needed as they are already active within the community in other initiatives for example in school committees. It also lays emphasis on the involvement of all genders and all age groups for inter-generational justice. This initiative, as described above relates very directly to climate change and gas emissions. It therefore enables “two birds to be killed with one stone”.

Gender, Health and Climate Change

This presentation was done by Rossi Benedette, an Italian student under The International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), an association of Medical Students Worldwide.

We already know if many cases of deaths resulting from climate change, as there have been numerous reports of communities dying because of drought and also because of floods over time. Women are the food providers in society, so they are most affected by climate change. This is because the effects of climate change would necessitate that they work harder to provide for families when conditions to avail the food become tougher. In the same way, when access to clean potable water becomes a challenge, women are again the most affected as the burden to provide this resource rests on them. In the context of climate change, women would thus spend more hours on roles related to being food and water providers. In medicine, health in not just considered as the absence of infamy, but also the presence of psychological, mental, social and economic well being. Scarcity of both food and clean drinking water exposes women to poor health (resulting from hunger and exposure to water borne (bacterial) diseases. This implies that they have less time to spend on other important and strategic activities such as their education. This contributes to the high statistics of illiterate women and girls who are out of primary school in many parts of the world. Lack of education leads to higher possibilities for illness and exposure to Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). All these factors cause stress on the public system. Agriculture and Food Production as well as Water and Sanitation are considered as some of the determinants of health in the medical field (Dahigren and Whitehead, 1991).

In addressing the question on climate change in relation to factors such as access to clean water, it is vital to sensitise communities and create awareness around the importance of looking after the environment. It is also important to highlight the central role each individual has to play in society in this regard.

Art and Climate Change

This presentation was done by Marina Sophia Flevotamas, a Greek participating in COP21 as a member of the Climate Champions program by the British Council and who has worked with Pachamamas in Peru.

Marina started off her presentation by stating that one of the most ancient and sacred practices that exists is story telling. She is involved in a project that works with women by interpreting art and narratives to tell stories, using visuals.

Her journey to the current work that she is doing began in Peru working with indigenous women. An initiative she was working on, had as an activity, the training of illiterate women in agriculture with the growing of indigenous crops as a key focus. To overcome the challenge posed by the fact that the women could not read or write, she developed simple narratives and nutritional books with visuals to train them. These helped the women to understand what she was teaching them.

It was from her involvement in this initiative that she learnt that climate change is an inter-sectoral issues.

Some of the questions/issues that currently occupy her mind now include:

  • How do we tell stories around climate change? Are we doing it well/right/honestly?
  • What we are being told doesn’t highlight the urgency of the situation.
  • How do we change this narrative?
  • We need to acknowledge the fact that we are all made of stories. Our history, past, future is stories. Although women are historically known to be good story-tellers, they are not being used in this sphere in regards to Development and more specifically in the Climate Change arena. Where are the women stories? They are absent. We need to reverse this.
  • There are many platforms to tell these stories. We need to use them.
  • Women play a big role in Climate Change. We need to present them as heroes in the fight against Climate Change.
  • There are those populations that don’t use the Western form of communication as they cant read or write. In such cases, innovation is required to still communicate with them as well as to capture their communications around Climate Change.

One of the projects that she has worked on involved compiling a book on Climate Change. The book brings out the inter-sectionality of Climate Change. She made this book by sending out an appeal for women to send in their contributions to the book. Women and girls from around the world, some of whom she never knew and has never met, sent in songs, poems, stories, etc, touching on their expectations, hopes, fears, memories, understanding, challenges, observations, experiences, work, etc around Climate Change. These included contributions by a young girl talking about her future and another by a woman sharing her views on land-grabbing, etc. She used these to come up with visuals to represent their words around the theme of Climate Change. The ideas may not be specific to a country, but just sharing them globally is useful (for the common good).

In concluding, Marina used an anology around alchemists. Alchemy is a Middle Age science combining chemistry and philosophy, aimed at transforming base metals into gold. It is a long tedious process that requires patience. Alchemists are known to be people who are awesome and full of amazing powers. In dealing with the challenges around Climate Change, women often exhibit a lot of resilience. In all this discussion around Climate Change there is the important question of Climate Justice. Women are useful and required in this discussion. They are transforming their pain and bad experiences into something positive. Something useful.

As far as Climate Change is concerned, women are great heroes. They are the greatest Alchemists.


Best Practice Sharing: Green Campus

This presentation was done by Shih-Ming Chung (PhD) of Tawain’s Industrial Technology Research Institution.

He started off by stating that his presentation was focused on how technology can be introduced in enhancing women’s role in Climate Change issues. When we look at issues like water access and food production, both of which are highly negatively affected by Climate Change, we see that women have immense knowledge and coping strategies to the resulting negative side effects in these sectors. They demonstrate innovative skills to adapt to the realities of the changing environment. However, most women have limited technological know-how so this stands in the way.

He went on to describe the Taiwan Low Carbon Island Project run by the institution he works with. The project was started in 2011 with the aim of developing low carbon communities, lifestyles, spheres and cities. In responding to industrial needs, they have developed technology that strives to improve the “greenness” of the environment through:

  • Zero waste recycling
  • Smart energy
  • Green parking
  • Green Island
  • Compost and Organic development farm
  • Low carbon emission initiatives

We see that these initiatives touch on activities like heating, food and transport, all of which women have a big role to play in our daily lives. Project therefore consciously promotes women’s roles and participation through various initiatives including:

  • Capacity building in Technology use
  • Access to Green Markets
  • Benefits for women from Green Lifestyles stations

The project has achieved greater leadership for women in business and governments through technological development.

Best Practices Sharing Around Climate Change: Homemakers United Foundation

This presentation was done by Polly Sham, Coordinator of Homemakers United Foundation, Taiwan

The Foundation was founded in 1987 by volunteers of New Environment Foundation. By 1998, they were working with 300 families. 28 years later, they currently have 120 volunteers, 1 2 members of staff and are working with 61,000 families and 1,110 farmers and producers. Their Mission and Strategy is build around having a Green Food Community and Green Foods that result in an overall Low Carbon Life. The Foundation has the clarion call of: Local Change, Bright Future. It is run by middle class home makers who have a firm attitude.

To give a background on what inspired the starting of the project run by Home Makers Foundation (HUF), the presenter indicated that the questions they first asked themselves were:

When do people most feel climate change?

The answer was: During severe typhoons which happen an average of 3 times a year.

What do the people in Taiwan care about the most?

The answer was: They buy vegetables just before these typhoons as the prices go up drastically thereafter and also as the vegetables after the typhoon are grown using pesticides.

How can they get good food?

The answer here was that the production of good food is primarily tied to non-GMO seeds and good farmers.

They therefore started off by working with 534 non-GMO arable farmers on a total of 894.78 hectares of land.

She explained that the five important elements that the farmers need to have so as to produce good food and which the project focused on are:

  • Knowledge: The project therefore runs a learning center to train farmers and impart vital information/knowledge on green farming.
  • Connection: The project co-ordinates a farmers’ movement.
  • Consumer: The project focuses on working with the farmers to produce green crops (pesticide and chemical-free)
  • Pricing: The prices at the restaurants that are a result of the project should respond to market forces. The project helps the farmers to determine their pricing.
  • Action: The project works with the farmers to lead them on where they could find/connect with potential partners. They also train the farmer on using ICT in this regard.

The project uses a maps software to get people’s land information, thus crowd-sourcing. Some of the challenges encountered here are:

  • How to empower the farmers to use the information on the maps to their benefit.
  • Lack of skills/capacity of the farmers to use the tools.
  • How to collect and upload information on the maps.

Additionally, partner information is also put on the map, so that people can find what resources are in their local area. Once the information is collected on a map, the map is also used as a resource.

At community level, HUF is referred to as comprising of people who think big for things people often ignore (such as food and waste). HUF strives to makes these issues everybody’s business/concern by showing how many others factors such as Child Health, Education and Food Security, are linked to the Environment and Climate Change . To pass on their passion to the younger generation, the foundation has made visits to schools and trained children on how to cultivate. It is pleasant to see the children use their bare hands to cultivate. HUF has also worked with teachers to incorporate information on Food, Agriculture and Environment into their teaching programmes after making the school visits.

In relation to education, the foundation therefore:

  • Promotes the importance of farming and food education.
  • Builds a food community network that involves young adults.
  • They also promote the use of solar energy to cook and train community members on how to install the solar cookers.
  • Their project here can be said to be centred around promoting cooperation using a two-pronged approach: Energy education and Empowerment for women and girls.

As women, they have run the organisation with soft power. Their activities run around the following themes:

  • Recycling and Compost:
  • GMO Free: They organize marches against GMO farm produce and campaign for GMO-free zones. Their efforts have contributed to government adapting a policy around GMO-free farm produce.
  • Organic Farming: They promote the use of the compost manure from residues of vegetable nitrate on the farms and discourage the use of pesticides. They train the farmers to measure residual pesticides on crops.
  • Urban Farming: They promote city and urban food security. They launched a campaign on urban farming this year (2015).
  • Zero Food Waste: They cherish food and avoid wasting it.
  • Carbon Free: No gas emissions.

 Credit photo @UN